National Lampoon was a ground-breaking American humor magazine. Its success led to a wide range of media productions associated with the magazine's brand name. The magazine ran from 1970 to 1998, and was originally a spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon.
The magazine reached its height of popularity and critical acclaim during the 1970s, when it had a far-reaching effect on American humor. It spawned films, radio, live theatre, various kinds of recordings, and print products including books. Many members of the creative staff from the magazine subsequently went on to contribute creatively to successful media of all types.
During the magazine's most successful years, parody of every kind was a mainstay; surrealist content was also central to its appeal. Almost all the issues included long text pieces, shorter written pieces, a section of actual news items (dubbed "True Facts"), cartoons and comic strips. Most issues also included "Foto Funnies" or fumetti, which often featured nudity. The result was an unusual mix of intelligent, cutting-edge wit, and crass, bawdy frat house jesting. In both cases, National Lampoon humor often pushed far beyond the boundaries of what was generally considered appropriate and acceptable. As co-founder Henry Beard described the experience years later: "There was this big door that said, 'Thou shalt not.' We touched it, and it fell off its hinges."
The magazine declined during the late 1980s and never recovered. It was kept alive minimally, but ceased publication altogether in 1998.
National Lampoon was started by Harvard graduates and Harvard Lampoon alumni Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman in 1969, when they first licensed the "Lampoon" name for a monthly national publication. The magazine's first issue was dated April 1970. The company that owned the magazine was called Twenty First Century Communications.
After a shaky start for a few issues, the magazine very rapidly grew in popularity. Like the Harvard Lampoon, individual issues had themes, including such topics as "The Future", "Back to School", "Death", "Self-Indulgence", and "Blight". The magazine regularly reprinted material in "best-of" omnibus collections.
The magazine took aim at every kind of phoniness, and had no specific political stance, even though individual staff members had strong political views.
National Lampoon was a monthly magazine for the majority of its existence. A large number of "special editions" were also published and sold simultaneously on newsstands. Some of the special editions were anthologies of reprinted material; others were entirely original. Additional projects included a calendar, a songbook, a collection of transfer designs for T-shirts, and a number of books. The magazine even sold yellow binders with the Lampoon logo, designed to store a year's worth of issues.